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Wild Surmise
Number 30
July 1999
An Almost Anonymous Informal Note
Expanding Theories of an Exploding Universe
The Scientific American of January 1999 describes some new information
that puts much we had thought about the universe into doubt. The
information is new, but those who are knowledgeable and have seen it
believe it is sound. The new observations indicate that the universe is
expanding at an accelerating rate, and this acceleration has prompted sober
people to suggest a new force hitherto unsuspected. I will say four things.
First I will describe how things seemed a few months ago. Second I will
describe the new problem. Third I will state that the formula for their "new
force" has already been published in Wild Surmise #27. And fourth I will
confess that I had predicted that my formula would have exactly the opposite
effect from what I am now suggesting. This is embarrassing of course, but
perhaps as usual you will forgive me.
First the way it was. Stars give off light. The light of stars has color. You
knew that. If you didn't, run outside and look at the dog star Sirius. You
will notice that the star changes in brightness from moment to moment. It is
twinkling because small movements in the atmosphere distort the light. You
will also notice that it changes color from moment to moment; that is
because the light from the star is broken up into its component colors at the
same time as the atmosphere distorts the light.
Different elements when heated have different colors. If you remember the
old mercury vapor street lights, they had a hideous blue purple color. Neon
fluorescent lights are deep red. Sodium vapor lights are a cheery orange, the
orange of a nice fire in the hearth. Sodium vapor lights have exactly the
color of a fire, because the color of the flame is caused by sodium, too.
With the right instrument, you can break up the light from a star and tell
what elements are present in it.
Light can be considered as a wave. (That's not the whole story, of course.)
If the star is moving away from you, the wavelength of the light from each
element will be slightly longer. If it is moving toward you, the wavelength
will be shorter. Radio waves also have a wavelength, and it is the change in
wavelength that lets police Doppler radar tell how fast you are going. Using
the same principle as police radar, astronomers can tell whether a star is
coming closer to us or going away from us and what its speed is relative to
our own.
I digress for a moment: of course the police Doppler radar can only tell how
fast you are approaching the instrument. If you are traveling across the radar
beam there is no reason for a wavelength shift. Similarly the Doppler shift
of a star only says how fast the star is moving toward or away from the
observer. So measure any star or galaxy and you will get a speed. Either the
object is hanging in space or it is on a collision course with us or it has
collided with us in the past. Obviously something is being left out.
The question of collision depends not on speed of approach but on constant
bearing. In other words, a ship at sea may be pointed straight at you and
coming on fast, but if at the same time it seems to be moving decisively to
your right or left, you holding a straight course, you are going to miss it.
You are getting out of its way. On the other hand, if it is pointed maybe
somewhere to your right, but while you have held your course it is staying in
exactly the same direction from you only getting bigger and bigger, prepare
to take action to avoid a collision.
Similarly, it turns out that if you are chasing a fly ball in baseball, the ball
which seems to be going to your left probably really is going to your left,
and you should run that way if you are going to try to catch it. It the ball is
going straight up, and has not been hit in the opposite direction, look at its
rate of climb. If it seems to your eye to be slowing down, run toward it. If it
accelerating upward, run back. If it is going up at a constant apparent speed,
wait for it to fall into your hands. Don’t hurt yourself, though.
So we are missing a lot by only looking at the Doppler signal from stars. I
have often wondered whether the gas in inter-stellar space was dense enough
to break up light like the atmosphere does. If so, the slower moving blue
light should be smudged out behind the faster moving red light and give us a
measure of lateral travel. I have never heard of this being observed.
Finish this digression and go back to the point of how things were a few
months ago.
A star, such as the sun, is a great ball of incandescent gas. Stars are thought
usually to be powered by the fusion of hydrogen into helium. The proof of
this would be finding neutrinos that such fusion produces. From the sun,
neutrinos have not been found in sufficient numbers, although apparently
this is because neutrinos can change form on their way here.
Nearby stars seem to be milling about the galaxy. Distant galaxy clusters
appear to be going away from us at a speed roughly proportional to their
distance. Measuring the distance is a complicated matter that we will not go
into except to say that different techniques are appropriate to different
distances; many techniques must be combined to estimate the greatest
If I say "star" I may be referring to a star in a distant galaxy cluster or I may
be referring to a distant galaxy or I may be referring to an exploding star or I
may be referring to a star-like object.
If each star is moving away at speed proportional to its distance, looking
back in time we would say that all stars, or the material that evolved into
them, must once have been packed into a very small space. The universe
consists of all stars that could possibly be seen, of all stars out to the distance
where they are moving away at the speed of light. Thus we can say just how
big the universe must be. If they were all in a smaller space, however small
that might have been, such a space would have been the entire universe.
The moment when that space started to enlarge is referred to as the moment
of the Big Bang. It's time must have been some number of billions of years
BC when matter now just at the fringe of the universe traveling at almost the
speed of light would have been right here. A tiny egg of something
exploding and then evolving into what we can now observe is called the Big
Bang theory of the universe.
The Big Bang theory received strong support many years ago when
microwave radiation was found coming from all corners of the sky. The
radiation was understood to be the light of the Big Bang, the very flash, still
visible although Doppler shifted to such a long wavelength that it is now a
short radio wave. More recently and less romantically, the microwave
radiation is thought to be light that dates back to a moment soon after the
Big Bang when the universe first became transparent.
Problems have long been perceived with this most simple theory. One
problem is that when one looks far out in one direction in the sky and
measures such things as the microwave radiation, the number of stars in a
volume of sky and the contents of those stars, one sees pretty much what one
finds in the opposite direction. So those areas must once have been
somehow in equilibrium. Yet they have always been so far apart that light
coming from each direction is only now getting here. They never have been
able to exchange matter or energy, so how can they have come into
The problem was resolved by reflecting that very early after the Big Bang,
energy levels existed of far greater intensity than anything existing now. At
such high energies some of the physical laws of matter, such as the
relationship between electromagnetic force and the forces that hold the
nuclei of atoms together, would not have existed in their present form. They
are thought to be special cases of some more general force. As the universe
expanded and cooled these laws of nature took the specific forms we now
can observe.
Imagine hot wet air rising in the earth's atmosphere. The water in the air
acts like any other gas, uniformly distributed in the air. Then at some time it
begins to condense into specific rain drops, each quite different from the air
around. In doing so the water releases energy, which slows the rate at which
the air cools. This permits the upward air current to continue. In an
analogous fashion, the condensation of our present laws of nature out of a
more general state released lots of energy. This energy caused the universe
to expand at a much greater rate than it currently does.
The rapid expansion of the universe propelled zones that were at a distance
from each other so far apart they will never be able to communicate. What
we observe as our universe was just one tiny zone that did, indeed, have time
to come into local equilibrium.
Since the laws that determine electromagnetic radiation, such as light, did
not come into existence until a finite time after the initial expansion began,
the inaugural flash of light that is now the background radiation dates to the
time when the laws began - when the universe "became transparent." At
least that's the way I figure they figure it.
Another problem was that good estimates of the age of certain stars and
galaxies yielded ages greater than that of the universe itself. This had people
tying themselves in knots trying to get the numbers to match. It turns out
they might just have said, "Hmm, yes it's odd," and waited a bit.
That theory, of a rapid early expansion of the universe powered by changes
in the physical laws of nature, was called the Inflationary form of the Big
Bang theory and was widely accepted. Dogged and faithful readers of Wild
Surmise, those with a memory as impressionable as water and as enduring as
adamant, will recall that the Big Bang theory presents another problem. If
so much matter had ever been condensed into such a small space, it would
have constituted a Black Hole, a region of such intense gravity that nothing,
not even light, could have escaped. So the universe cannot have expanded
into its present form from a Big Bang.
Since it looks like there was a Big Bang, and since there cannot have been
one, we propose that time is running backwards. The universe is actually
collapsing. That is not, at present, our point.
There was a more substantial voice of protest. There was a cosmologist who
suggested that space was filled with tiny grains about the size and shape of a
Gram negative bacterium. These grains could scatter radiation is such a way
as to produce the microwave background radiation. What we observed in
the microwave radiation was not the flash of light that was the moment of
creation but was a local fog. The universe was expanding all right, but it had
always been present and always been expanding. As matter sped away from
us, more matter popped into existence particle by particle in the vast gulf of
empty space. This was the Steady State theory. Philosophically it had a
strong appeal and serious adherents.
But pretty much the Inflationary Theory ruled the day. As technology
advanced it became possible to look at stars ever farther and farther away.
These stars went right on moving away at a rate that was proportional to
distance. This was slightly disturbing, because the gravitational attraction of
the stars for each other should have slowed the expansion down some. But
since no one was really sure how much slowing should be going on, no one
seemed disposed to raise an alarm.
So things stood about a year ago. Now the second point, the problem:
People, combining a number of techniques that sort of stood on each others
shoulders, began to find stars, that were really far out there. They made
substantially precise estimates the distance to stars lying at distances so great
that light has taken about half the age of the universe to get from there to
here. They were looking at the behavior of stars when the universe was half
its present age. And they measure how fast those stars were going away.
Those stars are moving away at a speed that is so slow that there is no way
they could have traveled so far in the time since the universe began.
Let's say that again. They found stars at such a great distance (that's right the stars were very dim, but it's more complicated than that) such a great
distance that given the calculated age of the universe and knowing the rate at
which the stars are dawdling along those stars could not have made it that far
since time began.
There is only one conclusion: time began long before they had calculated it
began. So that leaves the question: why are the nearby stars running away
so fast? At their present speed, they should be much farther away, given that
we now know the universe is much older than we thought.
So the nearer, and thus older, bits of the universe are traveling away faster
than the older bits were when they were closer. The universe is not slowing
down under the influence of gravity. The universe is effectively speeding
In order for a mass to accelerate, you need two things. There must be a
force on the mass, and there must be a power source.
The new force sounds like a big deal. "Scientists believe there is a new and
hitherto unsuspected force that is opposed to gravity and is forcing the
universe to expand at an ever increasing rate." That’s anti-gravity. That
sounds like fun. Maybe we can harness it into little vehicles or use it to
propel spacecraft. And maybe we can.
But we already have vehicles and already can propel space craft, so unless
this force proves to be so tractable and stable that it presents few engineering
problems, it won't get us much that is new.
And new forces are not all that much of a surprise. Nuclear physicists seem
to keep running into new forces all the time. When they to they postulate a
new particle to mediate the force. Electromagnetic force is mediated by the
familiar photon. In some ways light is a wave, but in some ways it acts like
a shower of photons. By now the nuclear physicists have collected an entire
zoo of subatomic particles to mediate their forces. In theory there should be
a "graviton" to mediate gravity, but nobody can say much about it. Got a
new force? Invent a new particle. There's not much problem. Ah, but
power is a problem.
You see matter and energy can be interconverted. Einstein seems to have
been dead right on that point. He predicted that when a radioactive atom
emitted a gamma ray and a shower of particles, there would be some missing
mass, the equivalent of the radiated energy. He was proved approximately
right early on and later with the discovery of neutrinos was proved to be
precisely right.
Well given the Big Bang theory, matter and energy appeared in a moment
and none has been added since. They interconvert, but they do not appear
out of nowhere and then hang around. Some theories hold that matter and
energy are being produced all the time in hard vacuum, but this energy
promptly returns to nothingness. Power is energy developing over time.
There is no external power source for the universe in the Big Bang theory,
whether you accept the Inflationary model or not.
But speeding those stars up calls for immense amounts of power. Its source
is now a mystery.
Myself, the first thing I would have said was, "It's galactic wind." There is a
phenomenon known as "solar wind." It is a stream of particle sweeping out
from the sun. When a comet come sufficiently close to the sun, it begins to
warm and give off quantities of vapor. The solar wind blows this vapor out
into the long luminous tail that is so characteristic of a comet visible from
earth. To my untrained eye, the tail of a comet is not much less dense than a
galaxy, so a similar wind could blow a galaxy. Of course galaxies are
farther apart than a visible comet is from the sun, but then a galactic wind the addition of a host of stellar winds - has had a long time to work.
Apparently my estimate is wrong by orders of magnitude, because no truly
knowledgeable expert has suggested that stellar wind even affects the
structure of galaxies, much less the trajectory of galaxies. The way the
comets tail behaves looks impressive to me, but I am sure the force has been
considered and rejected as laughably inadequate.
So there is the new problem. There seems to be a mysterious force, and
there seems to be an even more profoundly mysterious power.
And now as the third point, having duly denied any credentials for doing so,
I will give you the formula for the power and then explain how it works.
The formula, as stated in Wild Surmise #27 is this:
Elocation = m x k (D - h) (D - l) (D - w)
c(T - th) (T - tl) (T - tw)
where Elocation is energy, m is mass, k is a proportionality constant, D is the
diameter of the universe, h is the height of the bounded zone, l the width of
the bounded zone, w the width of the bounded zone, c is the speed of light, T
is the time since the big bang, th is the time the mass has been confined along
the h axis, tl the time the mass has been confined along the l axis and t w the
time the mass has been confined along the w axis.
I will try to say it in English. "If a massive object is known to be located
within some finite zone of three dimensions for a finite period of time, the
energy equivalent of that knowledge equals the mass of the object times a
proportionality constant times portion of the height of the universe from
which the object is known to be excluded times the portion of the width of
the universe from which the object is excluded divided by the speed of light
times the time the object was not known to be confined along the height axis
times the time the object was not known to be confined along the width axis.
That is a lot of words for a rather simple idea. If you know where something
is, the value of that knowledge is greater if the object is heavier and the
value is greater if the object is confined to a smaller zone and the value is
greater is the object is confined for a longer time. Or: the nigger it is, the
tighter it’s confined and the longer it’s held, the more you know about it.
The reason the formula is so awkward is that you want your calculation to
come out in units of energy.
You can in principle do the calculation for the energy equivalent of knowing
that your shoes have been in a shoebox for a year or the equivalent of
knowing that the mass of the sun has been confined to its present volume for
billions of years. So far it is just a number. It doesn't tell you what happens
to that energy.
Let me hasten to point out that this is not ordinary thermodynamics. In
classical thermodynamics, there is indeed an energy associated with
knowing where something is. But in thermodynamics, this energy is directly
proportional to the absolute temperature of the object. In other words, there
is a value to knowing where a heated object is, but no independent value in
knowing where the mass itself is. (By "value" of course, I mean an amount
of energy.)
Interestingly enough, recent work has suggested that close to absolute zero
things such as atoms do begin to lose their independent existence. A group
of individual atoms begins to act like atom soup with no specific identities.
Perhaps far in the future the universe will get so cold that all individuality
ceases, location becomes undefinable and everything is ONE. But I doubt it.
Let me also point out that this formula is not the one for converting
wavelength into energy. It is already well established that shorter
wavelength radiation gives more spatial information than short wavelength
radiation and is associated with higher energy photons. That is not what we
are talking about, although there is a superficial parallel.
So, justified or not, we have a formula for converting information into
The reason I was at the time so eager to concoct such a formula is this: as I
mentioned earlier there is enough matter known to be in the universe so that
if that matter was ever confined to a "small" space (say a billion light years
across) the result would have been a black hole.
Actually a billion light years is a pretty long way. If the known matter of the
universe were placed in such a space just by pushing galaxies closer together
without changing the galaxies themselves, you would hardly know the
difference. The nebula in Andromeda would be close enough to look more
like the nebula in Orion, but that would hardly cook us. A few other distant
galaxies would probably become barely visible. It would not be a big
change. The universe would look much as it does.
Since we can't be escaping from a black hole, we must be falling into one.
Nay, since there does not seem to be any huge discontinuity in the way the
universe has been acting going back to a billion years after the Big Bang, we
must still be in that black hole. I mean, of course, we must already be in the
black hole. (The idea of time running backwards will always put a strain on
ordinary language.)
But when you announce a black hole of a specific size, in this case the size
of the knowable universe, you make a specific statement of the amount of
mass (which of course can take the form of matter or of energy or of
information) that is contained in the space of the black hole you have
proposed. So for the notion of reversed time to make any sense at all, there
must be enough mass in universe now to make the universe a black hole at
the present time. That is a specific, very large, amount of mass.
And this point the astronomers are very firm on. There isn't enough matter.
There is enough interest in this point so that it has a name: the "missing
matter" problem. To be sure those scientists who are looking for the missing
matter are not doing so in the name of reversed time, but they are looking
very diligently and have not found it.
Scientists have found gravitational effects that already account for some of
the missing matter. Galaxies are behaving as if they are under the influence
of gravity stronger than is accounted for by the known matter they contain.
But even this is not enough to supply all the mass required if the universe is
a black hole.
Trying as always to be helpful, I proposed that the information inherent in
the location of the ordinary matter in the universe, in its confinement into
stars and galaxies, had an energy equivalent which had a mass equivalent
which would account for the mass that must be there but is not seen. I
proposed no other effect of that information at the time.
In fact when I worked out the formula I was not clear in my mind whether
"D," the diameter of the universe, was the diameter at any one moment or
the diameter at the moment of maximum expansion. That is to say, the
moment in the "future," our ordinarily defined future, when the universe will
cease to be a black hole. That is also to say the moment in the "past," also
our ordinarily defined future, when the universe became a black hole.
I will now say the "D" is the diameter of the universe at the time that E location
is estimated and "T" is the age of the universe when the estimate is made.
At first blush, of course, the formula appears to be a no-brainer that makes
no prediction except to say that the universe is massive enough to be a black
hole the way I want it to be for my theory to stand at all. Name the amount
of mass you need, and I will give you a value of "k" that provides the mass.
It is all neat and clean as a hound's tooth, completely untestable and
therefore pretty much meaningless.
But look again. The ratio D/T is the speed of light. That is to say that the
diameter of the universe divided by the age of the universe is the speed of
light, which we knew because we define the universe as that zone that is
expanding at the speed of light or less.
The ratio h/th is less than the speed of light because ordinary matter cannot
reach the speed of light. Therefore the ratio:
(D - h)
(T - th)
must get larger and larger with time as the universe expands and the massive
object in question stays within its defined space.
Elocation = m x k (D - h) (D - l) (D - w)
c(T - th) (T - tl) (T - tw)
must get larger for any one pair of shoes in a shoebox, gas in a star or star in
a galaxy. Add up all those shoes and galaxies and you get a number that is
steadily increasing.
Well, if we have increasing energy, that is called power. And it was power
that we were looking for to account for the fact that stars are racing away
from us at an ever-increasing speed, that they are accelerating.
Furthermore, we have in principle a testable theory. We look at the rate of
recession of galaxies in our vicinity (once you look for enough out for local
factors to be unimportant) and calculate what k is now. Then you look back
in time, which means looking farther away in space, and you calculate what
k must have been then to account for the power now seen to be pouring into
the universe.
All I propose is that k really will remain constant.
And this prediction describes measurements that are now being done and
calculations that are already possible. Whether anybody actually checks this
out is another question.
And now the fourth and embarrassing point: I worked out the formula in
order to come up with a force that would pull the universe together. I am
now using the same formula for a force that pushes the universe apart.
That is not quite so bad as it seems. Consider a universe that consists of two
bowling balls drifting slowly apart. This universe will have some total mass
consisting of 1) the mass of the balls, 2) the mass equivalent of the energy of
the distance between them and their mutual gravitation and 3) the mass
equivalent of the kinetic energy that is a function of their mass and the speed
they are traveling apart.
Add to this system a single photon, which bounces back and forth between
the balls. The total mass now must also include 4) the mass equivalent of
the energy of the photon. Yet as the photon bounces it supplies momentum
to each ball, and the rate at which this "universe" expands increases.
So yes, you can have your cake and eat it. A single calculation can both
provide the missing matter that would make the universe a black hole AND
provide the missing power that must be forcing the galaxies apart.
I only wish I had thought of it before the numbers started to come in.
Glade on the Slopes of the Horselberg
Editor's note:
Wild Surmise is an occasional newsletter on speculative matter. We send it
out for free. If you don't like it, let us know and we will take you off the
mailing list. If we don’t do that the first time, please hound us. Similarly, if
you want to be on the mailing list, keep after us.
Although we rush in where fools fear to tread, we really don't mean to
offend or slight anyone. Apparently someone took issue with something
Booty said about cystic fibrosis. Booty was, or thought he was, taking issue
with those who would try to eliminate the disease with a eugenic minded
breeding program. Apparently it struck someone that we were proposing a
counter program. Sorry. What you do with a disease is look for a cure.
There are a host of factors that properly influence your choice of mate.
Recently Booty was going on about his notion that Jesus must have visited
Europe because of a quote that indicates knowledge of prevailing westerly
winds. He suggested that these westerlies are driven by jet stream at high
altitudes. M wandered in with an encyclopedia article that suggested there is
a far more pronounced jet stream above the Holy Land than over England.
Oh, well.
can now be considered to be in shape. Drop by for a visit.
All the back issues should be there, a web cam in the office and if you want
to see the videos, there are a number available. There is even a link, in case
you don't have software for viewing videos, to download the software and
then spend a few hours watching lectures, poetry, music, drama and staged
Somebody took issue with some Wild Surmise remarks (meant in the
friendliest fashion, of course) about Zoroastrianism. There is an Internet link
at if you want more information.
William H. Dailey writes: "In his whirlwind of 1985, Booty claims not to
know how static electricity can increase to the point of creating lightning. It
was explained to me many years ago when I was a young lad full of
"Hot air rises, cools, and precipitates water in the form of clouds. Under the
right circumstances, the water droplets forming clouds combine into
raindrops. At this time any charge held by the droplets is greatly
concentrated. The reason is the ratio of volume to surface area between the
droplets and the raindrop. The raindrop ends up with the sum of the charges
of the droplets which go to make it up. It seemed reasonable to me at the
time. I was not a scientist. Maybe Booty knows more about it by now."
"Booty" was delighted by the explanation. Some questions remained, such
as how the net charge turned up in the first place, whether sleet or hail
played a part in this and why water droplets with similar charges did not
repel each other. Since the article was written, it has been discovered that
there are an enormous number of electrical discharges high in the
atmosphere at the fringes of space. The question thus also arises as to
whether ions streaming from the sun contribute to atmospheric electrical
Along these lines: The Tampa Bay area used to be one of the highest
lightning strikes areas in the world. It now seems to be in a kind of
permanent drought. Perhaps for geological reasons now unclear an unusual
number of ions accumulate over the Bay. Initially this might produce more
electrical discharge. Later, with increasing charge, the mutual repulsion of
water or ice particles might stop the rain altogether. Thanks for an
interesting message.
Someone also wrote that speculations about the ancestry of Adolph Hitler
seem idle now, as the questions will probably soon be resolved by DNA
WILD SURMISE, PO Box 217, Largo, Fl 33779-0217
 Copyright July, 1999, Wild Surmise
Lindörm's shadow floated rapidly across the dry grass. The high afternoon
sun made the shadow look even tougher and more squat. Mostly, it was just
the silhouette of a horned helmet, a round shield and a spear.
Counting two horns on the helmet, that makes four weapons. Lindörm
carried more. There was a bronze sword, over his shoulders. There was a
medium dagger at his belt, itself studded with brass. There was also a
change purse on the belt, and a change purse can make a serviceable
blackjack. Right forearm carried a bracer. The shield arm had no bracer,
but the knuckles were plate mailed on that side. Two boots made up twelve
weapons. Then, of course, there were the twenty claws on the lynx pelt
hung around one shoulder. Lindörm was a self-propelled arsenal, even
though he was fleet navigator.
I had grown quite fond of Lindörm. In fact I think I liked him better than
any character I ever have acted. I feel rather badly about what happened to
him in the end. In order to explain what appears to have happened, I'll need
to talk a little more about his weapons, and then follow him through that last
First, the spear was long, seven feet of shaft and two feet of point of a style
that has been known by the kenning, "flying dragon," which coincidentally
is what "lindörm" means. The spear was graceful and well balanced, and
that long point gave it an eager forward reaching air.
There are not many ways to carry a long spear through a crowd. Point down
and point at eye level are not good. Point up is the only way that is safe, but
the center of gravity is rather high, say between five and six feet. Your arm
will tire very quickly if you try to hold your hand higher than your heart.
Lindörm hard learned that the most comfortable way was to hold it exactly
vertical at about arms length.
The second most comfortable way to carry the spear was pass it through one
of the and loops of the shield and sling it over the left shoulder, shield in
back and spear in front but pointing back. This was his preferred method,
since the heavy shield had begun to take skin off his knuckles.
The helmet was copper and not terribly heavy, even with padding and horns,
but it required constant vigilance to keep the horns from finding trouble.
Although the spear was an authentic Viking replica, the helmet would have
been more appropriate to the Bronze Age. The boots were of primitive
design and heavy.
The bronze sword was an authentic Bronze Age replica: same size, weight,
shape and alloy. A new leather grip was wrapped on. Two deep fullers
were in place.
That's right. Fullers have been used since the Bronze Age, and people still
think they are blood drains.
About the only way to carry a bronze sword is between the shoulders. It is
almost too heavy to carry at the waist, and even if so carried, drawing from
the waist is slow. Drawn from the shoulders the sword is already half way
into the attack, but one must be sure not to grab the right horn.
One cannot easily sit while wearing a sword over the back, but that is not a
problem. Lindörm never sat.
Historically, the original of this sword had belonged to one King Olaf, and
had been included in his grave goods. By another coincidence, Olaf was the
king of the Vikings in our show.
King Olaf ordered us at dawn to slip up to the gates of the town of Malden
and hide ourselves in the crowd and among the trees. As the English King
Ethelred the Unready was preparing to enter the, we Vikings emerged from
the crowd and the trees, bristling weapons and bellowing uncouth
Totally surprised, Ethelred proposed a game of chess instead of a bloodbath.
Now it so happens that in the Viking homeland winters are long and harsh
and there is little to do but either stare into space or play chess. So chess is a
very popular game and skill in it earns high regard. Olaf accepted, and we
all entered the town.
For a while we moved in armed procession as the Viking queen and king
explored the shops and stalls of Malden. Someone took point. After that,
the royalty led. The Jarl, you might say earl, and I, the navigator, moved out
aggressively on the flanks. The rest of the gaggle thundered their
enthusiasm and generally looked dangerous. At last Olaf called for a rest.
The others found shade and sprawled while I traveled at a dogtrot to the lists.
What glory on earth is there like a joust? There have been martial exercises
in every land and at every time since the invention of war. But there is none
like the joust. For was it not the knight who was the trust of the alliance of
the Franks? And was it not the Franks who swept all before them until there
was not a corner of the world they or their heirs had not controlled, nor any
nation but Cossack and Seminole who were never ruled.
It was at the point of a lance that Salic law was thrust upon a reluctant world.
And what is that law? Salic law holds that the government is elected, that
people have rights, that law takes precedence over individuals and that
women are equals with men.
That is what is celebrated in the pageantry of joust, the flashing steel, the
flying banners, the earth trembling beneath the hoof of the chargers and the
young men risking their lives for an instant of glory. If you enjoy freedom,
thank a knight.
O yes. The dream his been twisted and the principles compromised so many
The squire does not so much see the joust; he feels it. He feels it in the
trembling of the earth as the great chargers advance. He feels it in the
pounding of his feet and the grit of the fibers as ropes are strung at speed.
Feels in the heat of a steel helmet some careless squire has left in the sun just
before it is needed. He feels it in the lance splinters that must be gathered
between passes, in the bit of steel nuts that must be set only finger tight to
hold steel plating on. It the flutter of banners and the tickle of plumes. He
feels the fear in his gut as a lance strikes or a horse rolls a rider down and the
relief when the knight rises. He feels it in the hollow despair as his knight
declares that a bit of armor cannot be repaired fast enough, and the knight
will ride without it.
Of course nobody feels the joust as much as the riders do.
With the joust finished at pieces gathered, it was another trot over to where
the mid day procession was marshaled. This celebrated no victory of justice,
nor any bright moment of history. We were only a pack of Vikings
terrorizing a village, thundering our pride and defiance, smashing shields,
brandishing our terrible weapons. It was a moment to taste the subtle
delights of the male baboon, the alpha bond and the thug pack. Our king
was the best, our queen was the best and we were the most loyal.
At procession's end, the other Viking poured onto the field as Lindörm stood
sentinel and then made his way back to help with another joust.
After the second joust, there was a moment's respite. Lindörm made his way
to the vendors and had his first meal of some cooked meat on a thin stick
and a horn of sugar water. Between gulp, there were the curious and
friendly to be greeted. Bright young women, who would have avoided a
civilized man, wanted to pat the untamed Viking, seek his smile, have
pictures taken with him. Children gazed in awe. The seniors laughed.
After one last swallow and another trot, Lindörm rejoined his crew in time to
pour onto the field for the last chess match. We always ran onto the field.
Do not tell me we were not an imposing sight. And the match went on.
People laughed. People cried. It was a good show.
And the day wore down, with Lindörm guarding the queen as she
entertained this group or made her farewells to that. She seemed to have a
habit of looking for the lowest tents and lowest branches to walk under.
And so it ended that last day. We had a plan to meet at a local bar and hoist
a parting drink.
The bar was crowded and dark. Glancing across, the eye picked up the
silhouette of massive people and horned helmets. There were dares and
challenges. There was arm wrestling at the table. And then it was time to
go. I left early.
I parked my car and climbed to the fourth floor of the motel. Below and to
the left was the lighted pool, where every other night there had been girls
swimming and the sound of mirth. It was now silent. There were no girls.
My last thought was a pang of pain. How many times I had not joined the
laughter, but had gone some other way, and it was now too late. It was
neither just this time nor just this pool. Nor was it regret for bad decisions.
It was only a sense of loss, a terrible loss, but the inevitable consequence of
And in the next moment exactly nothing happened. Nothing happened, but I
had the momentary impression of a fall, of lying supine, in a state of
unutterable weariness and not understanding voices above, which sounded
harsh and angry. And then, without actually getting up, I was walking again.
My heels struck the floor crisp and hard. I felt awake, wider-awake than I
had felt in my life. There was no fatigue; nor would I ever fatigue. And I
felt stronger, far stronger than even I had been when I was alive. But the
overriding sensation was shame.
I was mortally shamed. The humiliation, the sense of failure, the sense I had
done badly pressed like a cloak that had physically to be thrust away.
And I had no memory. I had no idea how I had got there. I had no idea of
where I had been moments ago. Even the memory of the fall and the voices
faded with the first step or two. I was alone with my remorse.
And I was going down a tunnel. The motel was gone and forgotten. There
was only the tunnel. But no light glowed down it; only the most total
blackness was ahead. There was no light, but I could see in shades of gray.
At intervals there were doors. On each door was a little sign. "206" the
"206" then "206." The numbers meant nothing. I could see numbers, but I
could not read them.
And so, for what seemed like a long time, I went down that tunnel, looking
at the doors. Eventually the conviction came on me. "They are supposed to
change." "Whatever they are, they are supposed to change." I fought with
all of my new found energy to make them change and they did. They began
to change. Then they were numbers again. And I thought, "Get bigger.
Become bigger numbers."
And I began to think that when they reached "414" that would be my room
number. And at that point a dreamy quality came to me. The world swam,
left becoming right, forward becoming back. Color began to return. The
pool reappeared. I was very tired. And I was just reaching my room.
I enjoyed being Lindörm. But I do worry about him.